“Do you want the Giver or the gifts?” asked my teacher. She was responding to another student’s question about not feeling anything when she prayed.
Do you want the Giver or the gifts?
Suddenly I saw my own self-centeredness. I want what God gives, not God. But I wondered, What would it be like to desire God more than health, success, comfort, security, esteem, and the like?
Maybe asking for health, success, and so on (for yourself or others) is the only way you’ve ever known pray. After all, Jesus did say, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14) and “Ask, and it will be given you” (Luke 11).
These are prayers of the first half of life: the upward journey. There is another journey, downward. Which is good news, because when you discover that you can only go so high by climbing, you will need to know there’s another way. Go down to go up.
With this second journey, there is a second way to pray. That’s what my teacher was pointing to: prayer of surrender, silence, stillness, and simple presence. These prayers reflect what the psalmist wrote—“Be still and know that I am God.” They’re like the prayer Jesus prayed in Gethsemane—“Not my will, but yours be done.” Prayers of essence. Prayers of being with Christ in God.
Anyone who has lost a loved one to death knows what it means to want the giver and not the gifts. And whoever has experienced a “visitation” (the palpable presence of a beloved after their death in a dream, in the dark, with a chill) knows how good and healing it is. All the more with God.
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray and sends us other teachers. When the student is ready, the teacher emerges.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” said the second criminal crucified beside Jesus.
Look at Jesus from the two criminals’ points of view. Don’t assume they knew anything else about him than what they experienced as they were being crucified together. What led one criminal to yield to Jesus and to acknowledge him--a man naked, humiliated, grievously wounded, and dying--as a king? Does it seem at all wondrous or strange to you that he did?
The first criminal mocked Jesus just like the leaders, the soldiers, and the authority of the Roman Empire. “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us.” He meant, “Interrupt this crucifixion and stop us from dying.” But Jesus did not “save” anyone in that way--not himself or the criminals, not you and not me.
The second criminal, strangely, did not ask Jesus for help avoiding suffering and death. He seemed to understand death was part of the deal. The only way around is through. How did he know? When others called Jesus “king” to mock him and the whole Jewish people, he instead asked to be part of Jesus’ kingdom. How do you account for this?
As you watch Jesus during his crucifixion, what do Jesus’ words mean to you: “Take up your cross and follow me”? What must you lay down in order to take up your cross? Where must you not go in order to follow Jesus?
What do you want to say now to Christ the King?
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3).
“Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question,” says the Gospel of Luke.
“That puts things in perspective,” we sometimes say. And Jesus died and was raised so we might live in perspective. In perspective of who God really is and who we really are.
Take Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees. It’s all about perspective.
A life of faith is much more about being in right relationships, rather than having right answers. This is hard news for most of us. We’d rather be right than be in awe.
Awe is what happens when you touch the Absolute. After the Absolute, everything else is relative--including what we consider “foundational,” like marriage. Jesus is not the champion of “family values” some make him out to be.
Instead, Jesus is the champion of Life. God is Absolute, and--Jesus insists--God is Absolute Life, Absolutely Alive. So much so that God’s life gives life to the dead. To God, everyone is alive. And more, this life God gives is new life. It’s not just a rerun of the life we’re living now. It’s different. For example, it’s beyond marriage. Whoa! Think about that.
Did the Sadducees surrender to awe, or did they just prepare their next argument? What awe-some new life does God want to give you right now? What argument must you surrender?
You were born generous, because you were created in the absolute and unchanging image of Christ. Your smile and laugh as an infant was full of the radiance of God. You cried when you were hungry or needed changing, and this expressed such freedom from shame and an inborn trust that love would reach for you. You never lost this true self, this original blessing. You only got lost, wandered, ran away from this “home.” This you lives! The goal of religion, and tithing, is to help you, as Richard Rohr says, “recognize and recover the divine image in everything”—including in you.
There are no shortcuts on this homecoming journey. Or truly, tithing is the shortcut. Or part of it. All the other ways are much longer and more painful!
You gotta learn your ABCs first. Skip them and nothing else makes sense. But as you make the effort, reading opens the whole cosmos to you! In sports, endless drills, conditioning, and strength training pay off on game day and beyond. Same with music. Discipline in “the fundamentals” unlocks a lifetime of “playing” as if it is “second nature.”
That’s the goal of tithing: play, generosity, and love as second nature. Then, the math and percentages fall away like used scaffolding. Then, we give as God gives: freely, endlessly, without counting, competing, or excluding. Then, we cannot not give; it’s become as natural as breath.
Until then, resist the temptation to play fast and loose—or rigidly, gracelessly! —with the time- and soul-tested lessons of our great spiritual tradition. To rediscover the generosity our Most Gracious and Self-Emptying Giver gave you, we wrestle deeply with the first and most basic teachings and let ourselves fall into God’s grace upon grace upon grace.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” and “Love your enemies.”
Saints live and die these words of Jesus. These words describe the way Christ goes. Saints follow. Saints surrender to this way Christ lives and dies that blessed and poor, loving and resisted way in them.
Who would recognize Christ in your living and dying? Who would not?
This Sunday is All Saints Sunday. We will celebrate both life and death in Christ. We will remember the beloved of God who have died in the past year, especially how they pointed to Christ, by living the way of Christ. And we will initiate newborn Oliver into this living way, when he is baptized. And we will promise to pray for and accompany his mother, Audrey, and Indra and Michael, in this living way as they become members of this congregation.
Do you see? Christ shines through the beginning, middle, and end of life, and even beyond. This is what it means to be a saint: Christ shines through you. And then your life and your death and your life in God looks like Jesus' words above, because of and despite your best efforts.
What is Jesus asking you to do, be, our change, so others may see more clearly Christ's living way in you? Which saint of God can help you with that?
“If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1st Corinthians 13:3).
Many give a great deal or very regularly but never become any less judgmental, rigid, entitled, or duty-bound; in fact, they become more so! God help us! Then again, all of us miss the point.
Dallas Willard says, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”
We can’t get the point until we miss it. None of us do it right until we do it wrong. Because that’s finally when grace has room to work in our hearts. When we fall down and get back up again, when a discipline of giving reveals and then heals our self-delusion, when we’ve tasted the joy and freedom of giving even if we then backslide, there is grace. Grace feeds gratitude and love—for God, for others, for ourselves. Perfectionism starves them. Give with the rhythms grace, not the nails-on-chalkboard of perfectionism.
Writing a check, putting cash in the offering plate, setting up an automatic withdraw from your back account—these are the “outer” efforts of tithing. The “inner” effort is unearning the money you worked so hard to earn. Grace is opposed to earning, remember. Your money is part of the overabundant Flow of God’s love and life (“grace”) to you. You participate with this grace by letting it flow to you and through you. Tithing is the letting go, unclenching, relaxing that lets grace Flow. Blocked coronary arteries hurt your heart and weaken your whole body. How much more dangerous is a blockage to the Flow to and through your soul?
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people…’”
Jesus told this parable to expose our superiority games. No need to pretend we don’t play them. The human ego separates self from others or my group from their group. And then it puffs up one and puts down the other.
Jesus reveals these games in order to heal, not to punish. In fact, the urge to punish is part of this very problem!
The Pharisee quite literally put distance between himself and the sinner. Jesus invites us to do the opposite--to close the gap between ourselves and others.
Who have you distanced yourself from? What would it be like to move closer to them, as Christ always moves toward you? Ask for God’s help and guidance.
Giving is hard because it’s not about the money. Giving is easy because it’s not about the money. And sometimes, it is about the money.
Anyone who has matured in generosity will recognize the truth in each of these statements.
Giving is hard because our resistance to growing in giving is almost always about anything else but the money—“It’s mine; I earned it. I deserve it; they don’t. I need it; what if I don’t have enough?” Our resistance is about our addictions and idols, fears and false selves. We live in a capitalistic, consumeristic culture: our compulsion is, by definition, money and stuff. Pointing the finger at others only proves how stuck we really are.
We rarely see this resistance for what it is until we outgrow it. Until life forces the issue on us in some way, through some great love or great suffering. Resistance, failure, and wandering is part of the deal. But Christ is endlessly loving and forgiving, and the cross proves God does new beginnings, not dead ends.
Giving is easy because as we work through the resistance, failure, and wandering, we learn and grow so much. And on the other side, we discover such great joy and freedom in giving—no matter how the people we give to respond. It really is like a miracle. Our relationship with money completely changes, because we have changed. We begin to see money like Jesus sees it. Our cup overflows.
And sometimes, giving is about the money. The nature of our economy, the laws in our country, the real financial pressures and possibilities we and our families know means the money often matters. Sometimes suddenly. These setbacks can teach us flexibility even with our promises, self-compassion, and empathy with others.